I started making this a little too late at night because I really wanted a fresh loaf of bread and I knew I wouldn’t be able to wait the next morning if I tried to make it then. The original recipe called for dried figs but we had dried dates so I just used those and I think it was very tasty. Needless to say, this whole loaf didn’t see the next morning in one piece. It was so freaking good and flakey. This is a time commitment people, but I think it’s worth it.
1 packet active dry yeast
1/4 cup honey plus 1 tsp
1/3 cup olive oil, plus more for the rise
3 large eggs, separated
1 1/2 tsp table salt or 2 tsp flakey sea salt, plus more for sprinkling
4 cups flour (fluffed, spooned and leveled)
1 cup roughly chopped dates or figs
zest and juice of 1 orange
1/2 cup water
1/8 tsp sea salt
1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper
Mix yeast and 1 tsp honey together with 2/3 cup warm tap water in the bottom of your stand mixer. Let it stand for a few minutes, until foamy. If there’s no foam, bubbles or that awesome yeasty bread smell after 5 minutes, toss it and try again.
Mix in remaining honey, olive oil, and 2 eggs. Add the salt and flour until the dough begins to hold together. Switch to the dough hook and run at a low speed for 5 to 8 minutes. Either transfer to an oiled bowl or set the dough on the counter for a minute to oil the stand mixer bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise for an hour or until nearly doubled in size.
During the first rise, make the date paste. Combine chopped dates, zest, juice, water, salt and black pepper. Bring to a simmer and all to cook until dates are soft and tender, about 10 minutes. Stir it occasionally so you don’t burn the bottom of your saucepan 🙂 Remove from heat and allow to cool to room(ish) temperature. Using a stick blender, blender or food processor, process the date mixture until it is a fine paste. Set aside to continue cooling.
After the first rise, turn out your dough on a well floured surface and divide in half. Roll out the first half in rough rectangle. Spread half the filling on the dough, leaving 1 to 1 1/2 inches around the edges. Roll the dough into a long, tight log to trap the filling in the dough. Take care to marry the dough together on the long seam. Gently stretch the long as wide as feels comfortable, I was going for about 32 inches.
Repeat with second half of the dough and remaining date filling.
Arrange two ropes in each direction so that they are perpendicular to each other. It will look like a tight tic-tac-toe board. Weave them so one side is over, one is under, like closing a box without tape. It should look like a 8 legged octopus. Take the four legs that come ‘under’ the center and ‘jump’ them over the leg to their right. Then, take the legs that were on the right (are now under) and ‘jump’ the legs to the left. If you have extra dough you can repeat this jumping process until you run out of rope. Tuck in the edges or another rough spots to form a round circle of dough.
Transfer to a parchment covered baking sheet. Beat remaining egg until smooth and brush over challah. Set aside remaining egg (don’t toss it yet)! Let challah rise for another hour. When you’re about 15 minutes away from the end of this rise, preheat the oven to 375.
Brush one more time withe egg wash and sprinkle with sea salt. Bake in the middle of your oven for 35 to 40 minutes. If yours starts to get brown much sooner, like mine did, cover it with foil so the top doesn’t get too dark. The easiest way to check for doneness is to check in the internal temp which should be 195 degrees.
Transfer to a rack to cool before serving, or not if you’re us 😉